What to buy

Yukata: not quite a kimono

20131019-112939.jpgThe term ‘yukata’ usually refers to the light cotton dressing gown worn after bathing at Japanese style inns; thereby an item of clothing associated with leisure. After the hot spring waters of the onsen have drawn out the stresses and strains of the day, all that remains is to eat, drink, relax and then crawl into the futon – an action most folk get around to clad in said yukata. More often than not, the yukata presented to or left for guest at ryokan are white with a simple blue print pattern and are worn by both sexes.

A more decorative version of the yukata is worn by women at traditional Summer festivals such as the ‘Bon Odori’ and at firework displays. Here the yukata become something of a fashion item and are worn more like a kimono, with a matching obi sash tied at the back. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan in the summer, and luckier still to attend a festival, you’ll find that the dazzling array of color created by the fireworks above is almost matched by that at ground level.

Yutaka as the perfect lightweight and relatively cheap souvenir are best purchased in the streets around Asakusa, Taito Ward, in the shadow of the huge Senso-ji Temple. Don’t be afraid to hold them up to see what they look like but don’t actually try them on – bad form!

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Categories: Japanese customs, Stories about Japan, Things to do, What to buy, Where to shop | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to drink… Shochu (Japanese gin or vodka)

barrels

 

While sake is familiar to millions outside of Asia, shochu is the drink of choice amongst the Japanese. Since 2003, shipments of shochu within Japan have outstripped sake and the trend shows no sign of reversing.

Shochu can be made from barley, sweet potatoes or rice and is distilled like whisky, unlike sake, which is brewed similarly to beer. The shochu is then aged in oak barrels giving the drink more kick (it averages around 25 percent alcohol, rising to 40 percent for some barley shochus) and a deeper flavour.

The famed Shinozaki brewery has been producing sake and shochu for over 200 years. Here Hiroyuki Shinozaki, CEO offers his tips for how to enjoy shochu:

‘The difference between different types of shochu is huge, be it rice, barley or sweet potatoes it is a case of finding what suits you. For me though, the best shochu is made from rice.’

‘If you are new to shochu, look for a bottle that is around 13 percent alcohol, the stronger shochus are more of an acquired taste. ’

‘Although you can drink shochu neat I’d always recommend diluting it with water to bring out the taste.’

‘Rather than just throwing the water in, as you would with whisky, you should dilute the shochu the night before you plan on drinking it. That way it blends overnight allowing the water and shochu to fuse. Don’t be impatient – a good shochu is aged for four years, it deserves one more day.’

‘Once you are ready to drink the shochu heat it gently in a pot of hot water – never, ever, use a microwave. The drink is best served at about 38 degrees Celsius, body temperature. It’s not a cup of tea after all.’

SHINOZAKI details

SHINOZAKI Co., Ltd, 185 Hiramatsu Asakura-shi, Fukuoka 838-1303
Telephone +81 946 52 0005
www.shinozaki-shochu.co.jp/shochu_index.php

 

Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Japanese technology, Must see, Things to do, What to buy, Where to drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A guide to Japanese whisky

Hibiki whiskey

In Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, the Australian spy Dikko Henderson gets a vile hangover drinking Japanese whisky. James Bond, more of a martini man, is amazed that Dikko would even consider drinking that gutrot, saying, ‘I can’t believe Japanese whisky makes a good foundation for anything.’ That neatly sums up the attitude of most foreigners to Japanese whisky for most of its more than 80-year history. In 2001, that all started to change when a 10-year-old Yoichi made by Nikka Whisky won the ‘Best of the Best’ title at Whisky Magazine’s annual awards. Since then, Japan has regularly scooped the top prizes at whisky competitions and has transformed its reputation. The Japanese spirit is spelled the Scottish way – ‘whisky’ not ‘whiskey’ – and belongs to the Scottish tradition, tracing its history to an epic journey by Masataka Taketsuru to learn Scotland’s distilling secrets in 1919. Take a crash course in Japanese whisky with our guide to the country’s distilleries.

HAKUSHU

Perched in the Southern Japanese Alps, Hakushu is, at over 670 metres (2,200 feet) above sea level, one of the highest whisky distilleries in the world. Opened by Suntory in 1973, it makes clean, playful single malts with sweet fruity flavours often balanced by well controlled peppery or aniseed tastes.

For tour details, visit the Suntory website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

YOICHI

Yoichi is Japan’s second-oldest distillery. It was built by the founder of Japanese whisky, Taketsuru, when he split from Suntory in 1934 to found Nikka whisky. High up on the north coast of Hokkaido, it spends much of the year deep in snow. Its whiskies are relatively ‘masculine’, with rich stewed fruit, nutty and coffee notes often balancing the assertiveness.

For tour details, visit the Nikka website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

MIYAGIKYO

Nikka Whisky opened its second distillery at Miyagikyo, Miyagi Prefecture in 1969. Taketsuru thought the location, sandwiched between the Hirosegawa and Nikkawagawa rivers and surrounded by mountains, was ideal for whisky-making. Its products are typically softer and milder than Yoichi’s.

For tour details, visit the Nikka website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

FUJI GOTEMBA

With an iconic location at the foot of Mt Fuji, this Kirin-owned distillery takes its water from rain and melted snow running off the great volcano. Its malts are relatively light and elegantly balanced.

For tour details, visit the Kirin website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

CHICHIBU

Having been established in 2008, Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture is a relative newcomer – but that hasn’t stopped it from quietly garnering a good reputation among whisky fans. It’s no surprise, really – Ichiro Akuto, the owner of this tiny independent craft distillery, is the grandson of the man who founded the now-closed Hanyu distillery.

Chichibu Distillery, 49 Midori Gaoka, Chichibu, Saitama, 04 9462 4601. Public tours are not currently available
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

WHITE OAK

White Oak is a small independent distillery by the sea in Hyogo prefecture, western Japan, owned by Eigashima Shuzo, a saké and shochu maker. Their single malts have a very mild, rounded flavour.

For tour details, visit the Eigashima Shuzo website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

YAMAZAKI

Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, built in 1923, at a site famous for its pure water at the confluence of the Katsura, Kizu and Uji rivers, near Kyoto. Its malts often have a delicate fruitiness, with sweet spice, incense, and coconut aromas.

For tour details, visit the Yamazaki website
Available to buy at amazon.co.jp

Categories: Daytrips, Japanese customs, Things to do, What to buy, Where to drink | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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